Stop the insanity: The government has no business messing in the news business

This tweet:

Why didn’t I watch Senate hearing today? Because I’m busy working on journalism’s future, not worrying about its past.

Proved quite popular this evening.

I posted it in light of news about the Senate Subcommittee Hearing today on the future of journalism.  For months (years?) we’ve been assaulted with notions of  "saving" newspapers — should we give them non-profit status, issue some sort of taxpayer bailout, make Google pay, relax anti-trust laws … etc.?

There’s a whole host of proposals out there to "save" newspapers that any real capitalist should find not only laughable but horrifying.

Let’s be clear: If a newspaper can’t compete in the free market it’s not worth saving. If a newspaper needs aid from the government to survive, it’s not worth saving.

A newspaper is a business, just like any other business. It’s not a church. It’s not a social services agency. It’s not a civic organization.  It’s a business.

When a business model is broken, or a strategy is flawed, or time has just passed it by, that business – even whole industries — die. It’s a process of evolution. It’s necessary for the ecosystem of society.

Journalism will not die, though every newspaper might stop printing and some companies that now spew ink to tell the news will cease. Journalism will not die.

If businesses that support journalism are now are not able to compete in the free market, if they are unable to adapt to the changes in the market, they simply do not deserve to survive.

The only thing that will save journalism is the free market. Any other solution will lead to ossification and ultimately will greatly damage democracy, because citizens will become only more jaded and distrustful of a press that through government-backed monopoly power suppress entrepreneurial competitors.

I work my ass off every day — 14, 15, 16 hours a day — trying to create a sustainable online news site.  Maybe I’m on the right track, maybe I’m not, but as an entrepreneur I feel I have a right to put forward my ideas, my business model in a free market and see if it works.  

If it doesn’t, fine, but I shouldn’t have to compete against media companies that are given government favor through changing anti-trust laws or granted special privileges.

The free market should decide what journalism will be in the future, not some gray-haired Senator or government bureaucrat.

3 thoughts on “Stop the insanity: The government has no business messing in the news business

  1. Howard: I agree with you in part and disagree with you in part. Rather than go on at length, I’ll simply point to public radio, which is as market-driven as any for-profit company. Public radio stations thrive by building goodwill in their communities so that listeners will contribute and businesses will advertise — oops, "underwrite." Most public radio stations receive so little government money that they could easily survive without it.

    You seem to be thinking of the nonprofit model as something that will lead to sleepy, foundation-supported newspapers that no one will read. It could happen. But public radio has demonstrated that non-profit can also be just another way of competing in the market. I don’t want to see the whole newspaper business go non-profit. But let’s have a few try it and see what happens.

  2. Dan, public radio is part of a mix that includes mostly for-profit companies, and does Poynter (running St. Pete Times).

    My issue isn’t with such one-off situations, but any government interference that radically rewrites the rules.

    If within the current rules a newspaper finds a way to go non-profit, fine, but that isn’t the same as the government interfering in the market.

  3. There are already non-profit newspapers, such as the Christian Science Monitor, and hybrids, such as St. Pete and the New Hampshire Union Leader. I agree — I don’t see why the government needs to change the rules, other than repealing Lyndon Johnson’s 1954 amendment that bans non-profits from taking political stands.

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